Blade Runner


Directed by Ridley Scott
Based on the short story by Philip K. Dick
Screenplay by Hampton Fancher

Blade Runner remains (despite some increasing competition in the style category) my favorite movie. For newer filmgoers, The Matrix has assumed Blade Runner's place as the definitive example of sci-fi movie style -- a well-deserved revision. Nevertheless, Blade Runner 's dystopian, noir sci-fi world was not only a prerequisite for the rebel elements of Terminator or Blade , it's a more satisfying movie at many other levels.

Blade Runner was notoriously not a hit. Original box office revenues were only $28 million U.S., as the movie's darkness failed to reach the disco-era audiences in theatres. I was one of that small audience -- I watched the opening flythrough shot of burning oil refineries in a permanently smog-drizzled L.A., and I knew I was watching a breakthrough movie. Ridley Scott's sense of visual styling runs through every shot of the movie, and he's never handled material that was a better fit for his noir instincts. The movie's then-distant prophecy of L.A. as a multi-lingual, culturally ambiguous melting pot crystalized the sense of slow decline many felt at the time.

Harrison Ford is a Blade Runner, street slang for the class of detectives who hunt down fugitive androids that return to Earth from the space colonies despite the strict regulations against this. Although there are references to race and ethnic discrimination here, the focus of the movie moves on to the canonical question androids raise in our minds: What is the difference between a human and a sufficiently intelligent machine? How do you know what you really are?

Blade Runner is a sufficiently old-school movie to not conform to the political correctness that stifles current movie efforts. The multi-ethnic inhabitants of a blue-colored, fog-filled L.A. play their ethnicity to the hilt. There is violence against women and date rape. Fortunately, they're used to play with their characters' nature and not for spectacle. Like The Matrix, Blade Runner is more about style than plot; but unlike the later film, it's not critical to put the plot out of your mind.

Another reason to study Blade Runner is the incredible disconnect between the movie that resulted and the environment in which it was made. Blade Runner was British director Scott's first American movie, and the antagonism between him and the L.A. unionized film crew was tremendous. In the middle of Blade Runner primary shooting, an interview came out in which Scott described the difference between American crews, who question every decision and work according the strict contract rules, and British crews who respond to every request with, "Yes, Gov'nor!" The next Monday 70 Blade Runner crewpeople showed up for work with shirts that said, "Yes, Gov'nor my ass!" The tension on the crew apparently extended to star Ford as well.

Blade Runner is still a thrilling film experience. Drink in its pioneering visualization of the future and you'll tap into the tremendous influence it has had on sci-fi moviedom since.